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Summer Fest Preview: Morris Day & The Time

In Culture, Music
Morris Day & The Time perform at Summer Fest on Friday.

Morris Day & The Time perform at Summer Fest on Friday.

For millions of people, Prince is an enigmatic musical genius, one of the greatest songwriters of his generation, and perhaps the most celebrated icon of funk in history.

To Morris Day, who plays San Jose Jazz’s Summer Fest on Friday, he’s the guy he was stuck in the basement with every night for hours upon hours on end.

Of course, he’s much more than that. They started out as childhood friends in Minneapolis, putting their first band together in high school. But even after mainstream hits like “Jungle Love,” “The Bird” and “Jerk Out”—not to mention a co-starring role in Purple Rain—most people still don’t know that the Time’s first three landmark albums were written, arranged, performed and produced almost entirely by just two people: Morris Day and Prince, slaving away on the future of funk in a basement. Day remembers the police dropping by their lakeside studio several times to tell them to shut it down for the night.

“It was crazy,” says Day. “He wanted to be in the studio all the time. That’s all we did. We started playing music together when we were kids, but he’s always been more of a workaholic than I am.”

The illusion that there was an actual band performing on the Time’s records was created right from the first, self-titled 1981 album, since there is one pictured on the cover, fronted by Day. Prince’s contributions were obscured with the pseudonym “Jamie Starr.”

Of course, the Time was a real band, which performed live regularly even as they were barely allowed to contribute to the records. This came to be a huge source of tension, especially when the Time got good. Really good. As in, good enough for Prince to suddenly consider his creation a threat.

“We always say he created a Frankenstein monster,” says Day. “All of a sudden, this was a band that was better than his band.”

He’s quick to point out that he doesn’t mean better than Prince as an individual performer, but rather better than any group of musicians The Purple One was able to surround himself with. Live, the Time featured Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis—who would go on to be two of the most successful producers of the 1980s, with 16 #1 songs throughout the ’80s and ’90s—on keyboards and bass, Day’s popular comic sidekick Jerome Benton, guitarist Jesse Johnson, drummer Jellybean Johnson and additional keyboarist Monte Moir, who went on to a successful songwriting and producing career.

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